Selective Reality: What a Concept

I’m sure you’ve seen HBO’s Not Necessarily the News. These people are masters of what I like to call “selective reality.’ The producers take actual news footage and combine it with tape shot specifically for the show. The resulting video clips document events that never happened.

For example:

President Bush reads a speech. He stands at the podium with his hands behind his back, vowing, “Read my beak: no new taxes.‘ The scene cuts to a closeup of the hidden hands-and crossed fingers.


How to Make a

DIY Green Screen

Free eBook


How to Make a

DIY Green Screen


Thanks! We will email your free eBook.

Now this didn’t really happen, probably. So how did they do it?

Selective reality. They begin with the real speech, featuring the real president really saying “no new taxes.‘ For the closeup of the crossed fingers the producers used the same video format as the original, duplicated the lighting conditions and the president’s precise suit color, and hired an actor with hands and backside similar to the limbs and contours of Bush.

Continuity is the key to the illusion. If the shot on film and the
speech was closeup on video, the difference between the two would he so jarring the viewer wouldn’t be fooled. If the president wore a blue suit and the actor donned grey, we would know. Same if they used the hands of The Mummy.

The pieces have to match

Make Reality Work for You

The easiest way to use selective reality for fun is through the altered interview.

Choose your victim carefully. The target of the trick should be a good friend, preferably one with a good sense of humor. An important
event is upcoming in the victim’s life or career. Say a birthday. A gathering of close friends and family is imminent.

You convince the target, a Mrs. Smith, to submit to a video interview

The questions are perfectly serious. Lock your camera down on a medium shot of the female Smith and sit just to one side of the lens.

You: “Let’s start with a few warm-up questions so you can get used to the camera. How long have you lived in the area?’

Her: “All my life.”

You: “Do you like it here?’

Her: “Of course. I wouldn’t think of living anywhere else.’

You: “Do you have any pets?’

Her: “A toothless old senile dog.’

You: “Where do you keep him?’

Her: “Oh, I keep him in the backyard, but sometimes I have to tie him up in the garage when his howling becomes too much for the neighbors.’

And so on. You have the makings of a masterpiece here, but there’s still a little work to be done.

Dropping the Boom

Sift through the raw interview and choose the most potentially offensive answers. With new questions march back through the interview on a mission to embarrass your friend.

When you tape yourself asking the new questions make sure your head’s facing the opposite direction as Mrs. Smith so it will appear as if you were looking straight at her.

After editing your new questions and Smith’s old answers onto a master tape, your new improved version will go something like this:

You: “We understand you’re a penny-pinching miser. How long have you suffered from this retentive malady?’

Her “All my life,’

You: “I see. Is it true you built your house in the heart of the tavern district so you wouldn’t have so far to crawl after your nightly binges?’

Her: “Of course. I wouldn’t think of living anywhere else.’

You: “How would you describe your husband?’

Her: “A toothless old senile dog.’

You: “Really? And does he still live with you?’

Her: “Oh, I keep him in the backyard, but sometimes I have to tie him up in the garage when his howling becomes too much for the neighbors.’

Now you see why the victim must have a good sense of humor. Especially because for the tape to work you must play it in front of a lot of people. At Mrs. Smith’s birthday party, for example. Where her neighbors and husband could take turns pelting her with cake and ice cream.

Selective reality… what a concept.

William Ronat‘s directorial career has taken him from the relative safety of an aircraft carrier at sea to the intense and dangerous world of network soaps.

Did you find this content helpful?

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.